In this post-election season, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has unveiled a new permanent exhibition, "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden." Nearly a thousand artifacts tell the story of our nation's highest office, ranging from Warren Harding's blue silk pj's and a peanut-shaped plastic bank depicting a grinning Jimmy Carter to the polished mahogany lap desk on which Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the radio microphone FDR used to deliver his fireside chats, and Abraham Lincoln's iconic top hat. In many ways, the presidency is nothing more than a series of odd, if remarkable, jobs—statesman, manager of the economy, military commander, season-opening baseball pitcher. A dozen videos drawn from photographs, newsreels, and TV reports show our leaders in times of crisis and in White House home movies. It's this very combination of the historic and the mundane that brings the presidency to life—and in this era of political anomie, that could be considered a form of national service.
National Museum of American History, 14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 800/551-7328 (for tickets; admission is free, but timed entry passes are required) or 202/357-2700 (for information).
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